Robert Dunbar - Children’s Books
Marian looks at christmas books for children and she is joined by Robert Dunbar, children books columnist with the Irish Times.
Youngest children: picture books
A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith (Oxford Univ Press: £11.99)
This is the only one on the list that is not a new book – it was first published in 1989. It is one of the most beautiful illustrated books on the Christmas there. It’s about a girl called Rebecca and a donkey and follows the footsteps of Mary and Joseph on way to the stable.
Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde, illustrated Charles Robinson (O'Brien Press: €14.99)
This is a new version of illustrated stories of Oscar Wilde – the 3 best know, the Happy Prince and the Selfish Giant and the Nightingale and the Rose. In addition to producing a really attractive book and it’s also the unabridged version of the telling. Not only that, hey have reproduced original prints – Charles Robinson early 1900s - lovely present book and very attractively produced.
Pandamonium by Kevin Waldron (Templar Publishing: £6.99)
The pandemonium caused at Zoo by new panda. Kevin Waldron is both the writer and illustrator and is Irish. The fun if the story lies in the fact that Zoo Keeper, Mr Peak wants to make the new panda a visitor attraction. The new panda called Lulu has other ideas. She causes chaos. The last page is a pull out of all the animals in the zoo.
Vroom-Town: the Adventure of Terry the Terrible by Emer Conlon (Essential Marketing: €9.99)
This is I think a terribly inventive little book, the second book in the series, and the basic situation here is, there is a guy called Bill Burn who owns a yard where trunks are accumulated, but any child interested in mechanical things will love this book. And another reason it would be popular, this tracker unit – Terry the Terrible is very bold. The pictures are very bold colours and the text is very straight forward.
Journey by Aaron Becker (Walker Books: £12.99)
This is perhaps the most original – there is not one word of text in it – it’s completely wordless, you read the picture and you can deduce certain details of what’s going on. It’s about what happens to a little girl who comes across as being lonely, she lifts a red marker pen and she draws a door on the wall and she steps through the door into mysteries enchanted landscapes and ends up on a flying carpet. Utterly beautiful – and great for learning language.
Ages 7 – 9
Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I by John Chambers (Walker Books: £5.99)
This age group that we’re at now, one of the most difficult age groups to cater for - both of these are funny books. Both have the extra advantage of being illustrated.
John Chambers is Irish and is has created this wonderful story – the boy is called Samuel Johnson, and if he’s called after the man who created a dictionary, you’re going to give him interesting words and he speaks in a way that is pompous but fun. He is being bullied at school and granny has to come to the rescue – she is an martial arts expert, she also has a wodden leg and false teeth and she has also got an enemy – the monkey king. Samuel’s role to help the granny... the illustrations are in keeping with the subject.
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (Oxford Univ Press: £8.99)
About a ten year old boy Oliver Crisp - Philip Reeve well known in the world of children’s books. Young Oliver’s parents are explorers, they met when they climbed mount Everest and they announce that the time has come for them to retired and go to settle in south western England. But they discover Islands in the bay and want to go exploring and that is fine until the parents get lost... and Oliver has to save them. He meets a most amazing variety of people even the Islands themselves are a bit strange.
Ages 10 - 12
The Ransom of Dond by Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling: £9.99)
This is illustrations are by Pam Smy. Siobhan Dowd died 6 years ago, She left four well regarded prize-winning novels. This one has recently come to light. It is full of the atmosphere of Irish Celtic myth and legend. It’s a sad story in many respects, but does have a happy ending. At its heart is a young child called Dara, and she lives on this Island where there is a superstition that if you are the 13th child in a family you must be sacrificed to the god Dond. She is the 13th child and must be sacrificed. Her twin brother tried to save her. It’s one of those poetic atmospheric stories.
Jake & Lily by Jerry Spinelli (Orchard: £9.99)
Although it has serious moments, it’s a light hearted book – this is set in America, and Jake and Lily are twins and they have just celebrated their 11th birthday . It’s written in alternate chapter by each. But the main voice is Lily’s and they’ve been very very close but she is beginning to be aware that they are growing slightly apart. The only person she feels happy to confide in is her grandfather – a wonderfully realised character. She realises in growing up you have to grow apart. Jake needs to test his independence. Love is proved in the letting go. There are also some wonderful minor characters. He joins a boys gang , but some of the boys are not attractive 11-12 year olds, one called bump who is not an entirely pleasant young man.
Arthur Quinn and Hell's Keeper by Alan Early (Mercier: €8.99)
He is an Irish author and now this is 3rd is what has been a trilogy of books, the 3 books the Father of Lies Chronicles. At the heart of all is Arthur in a gang of friends and throughout the 3 books Arthur has moved from the country to Dublin and he finds himself and his friends sucked into fantasy Viking world. The historical world terribly well handled. But Robert’s own favourite part of the book, is when the two worlds collide and Alan Early is good at leading up to a wonderful climax – the friends have to confront the Norse God Loci. They find themselves flying across Dublin on jet skis.
Missing Ellen by Natasha Mac A Bhaird (O'Brien Press: €7.99)
This would be the best Irish book young adult book of the year. It’s about the deep friendship between two girls. The girls in question are Maggie and Ellen and Ellen disappears. They’ve been friends all their lives and all through school, they come to feel apart from one and other – Ellen’s parents are divorced and Ellen and her mother have difficult times with Ellen left on her own. Maggie observes all this. Part of this is written as a diary kept my Maggie but some is in linear prose. Ellen eventually disappears. It’s terrifically well paced. A great sense of mystery is built up.
Stay Where You Are & Then Leave by John Boyne (Doubleday: £10.99)
Author of Boy in Striped PJs – but this is set in World War 1 – 28th July 1914 – on the day war breaks out. The hero on that day is 5 years old Alfie who is growing up in London. His dad has as milk cart. The father has to decide whether or not to join up. He decides that he will... really describes what happens as the war progresses and there are actually scenes on the battle field and the hospital but the book is more about the effect of Alfie’s perception of war and the other people that live on the street. It’s really more about that than the horrors of war. It’s for a more mature reader (14 onwards) and we’re coming up to the Centenary of the outbreak on WW1. This is unusual and its very well done.
More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker Books: £12.99)
The writer won prizes for his earlier novel, A Monster Call. This book More than This is an amazing piece of writing. This one is more 15-16 onwards, young adult book – it would be in the category of so called cross over books. It’s about 17-year-old Seth who has grown up in American but was born in England.
Robert says that few books are as gripping from page 1-3 as this novel– what is happening here, Seth, strong and young and 17 and you are told by the end of page 3 he has died. Once you get over to page 4, you have to ask yourself or does he? Seth wherever he is, his memory is being revisited and reconstructed and one of the other things that edges it into cross over sections is that Seth is gay. I honestly can think of few books where it’s handled with such elegance and ease. And one of the things Patrick Ness does in this book – real view of the adolescent experience – particularly good at describing adolescence as a time you never quite know what will happen to you.